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Panel says casino tax revenue could help keep troubled Blue Jackets in Columbus

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, right, celebrates his teammates goal past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, left, during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, December 30, 2010. Casino tax revenue would be used to help buy the Blue Jackets' home arena from Nationwide Realty Investors and Nationwide would become part-owner of the financially troubled team under a proposal announced Wednesday to help the city keep its NHL club and preserve economic activity in the area near the arena.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, right, celebrates his teammates goal past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, left, during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, December 30, 2010. Casino tax revenue would be used to help buy the Blue Jackets' home arena from Nationwide Realty Investors and Nationwide would become part-owner of the financially troubled team under a proposal announced Wednesday to help the city keep its NHL club and preserve economic activity in the area near the arena.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Casino tax revenue would be used to help buy the Blue Jackets' home arena from Nationwide Realty Investors and Nationwide would become part-owner of the financially troubled team under a proposal announced Wednesday to help the city keep its NHL club and preserve economic activity in the area near the arena.

President Mike Priest says the team was encouraged by the plan and believes it "offers a solution that will provide a long-term sustainable business model for the organization."

Under the proposal, the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority would buy Nationwide Arena for US$42.5 million, or about a quarter of its construction cost, and receive part of the city and county tax revenues from the casino being built in the Columbus area. Nationwide would invest $52 million in the team and take a 30 per cent interest in the Blue Jackets, who would agree to make it their home until 2039, 13 years beyond the current agreement, and receive incentives to save them more than $9 million annually. Nationwide also would buy naming rights for the facility for 10 more years, providing the team with an additional $28.5 million.

The team has made the playoffs only once in its 11 years and had seen attendance decline, and a report commissioned two years ago by the Columbus Chamber warned that the city might have a hard time retaining the Blue Jackets because they were losing $12 million a year.

William Jennison, executive director of the Convention Facilities Authority, said the hope now is that the team will stick around forever.

The proposal would require approval from public officials at several levels. It was announced by a panel put together amid concerns about the future of the district around the arena, the jobs it provides and the economic benefit of having the team as a major tenant there.

"It would actually cost the community more not to do this because if you were to lose that economic activity, it would be much more costly than the amount of casino taxes that are being invested," Jennison said.

The facilities authority would borrow $53.3 million, including $10 million from the Ohio Department of Development, to fund the purchase of the arena and its initial expenses until the casino taxes start in 2013, Jennison said. The city and surrounding Franklin County would agree to pay the facilities authority one-fourth to one-third of their annual casino tax revenues—a chunk that amounts to a projected $7.7 million in 2014—until an estimated end date of 2039, depending on the total tax revenues contributed.

The major entities involved in the deal would form a new non-profit group, Community Arena Management, that would manage the arena and likely would choose Ohio State University to handle the sales and marketing, as it does now, Jennison said. The non-profit group also would manage Ohio State's Value City Arena.

Jennison said officials hope to have the deal approved by all relevant parties by the end of the year.

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